A Travellerspoint blog

Hola, Argentina!

You´re the last country we expected to see (although now we´re VERY glad we did)

sunny 20 °C

When we took off on this trip, we had a handful of countries we definitely wanted to go to and a couple we thought we might end up visiting - Argentina wasn´t on either of those lists. But the health hiccup I had at the very beginning in the U.S. ended up sending us in unexpected directions. Originally we thought I could get the follow-up I needed in La Paz or Santa Cruz. After all, one of the two biggest cities in any country SHOULD have good medical facilities (even if it is Bolivia) right? But a combination of advice from people who´d lived there and the very unprofessional communication from the clinic I´d contacted had me getting uneasy by the time we started on the Salt Flat tour. The straw that broke the camel´s back was when one of the Aussies on the tour told us that a standard element of her travel insurance is that she be transported OUT of Bolivia should she need serious medical assistance. So halfway during the tour we decided NOT to go back to Uyuni in the north and on to Santa Cruz, but to leave the tour in the southern city of Tupiza along and - from there - head straight down to Buenos Aires for the one and only reason that it has one of the best medical reputations in all South America. But now that we´re here, I must say I´m almost (almost, mind you) glad they found that wonky polyp in the U.S., otherwise we would have missed this wonderful city.

Ah - Buenos Aires... how best to describe you? Your different barrios are almost like different little countries in themselves. On the one hand you have streets full of hypermodern skyscrapers, big-brand shops and lovely pavement cafes and flower stalls that look like New York or Paris on their very best days - it´s really the first South American city we´ve been in that looks like ´the West´. On the other hand, there are neighborhoods that you probably should NOT wander into on your own at night, but which - during the day - are absolutely bursting with life, spice, and authentic, energetic, rough-and-tumble Argentenian atmosphere.

Different faces of Buenos Aires
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Some of them, such as San Telmo, have apparently started getting more ´gentrified´in the last years with trendy little shops and restaurants slowly moving in, but the local residents are resisting it right and left - they don´t want their neighborhood to change a BIT, even if it is for the "better"! We´ve been here 10 days now, and in between the various medical appointments have really done and seen a lot. Here, some of my biggest impressions.

Walking, walking, walking
It´s the only way to really see the city. Our very first day we did a 3-hour walking tour that took us to some of the main sights. The next day, we walked ALL the way from our hostel to the hospital - halfway across the city - for my first appointment. Oh, my aching feet! But those two excursions took us through a number of the different barrios and really got us oriented. It´s amazing how the neighborhoods can change, with all the different types of architecture, shops and parks along the way. Here you have Gucci and Prada in super-cool, antiseptic glass showcases, then old, utterly gorgeous facades with wrought iron balconies fllled with flowers that have shabby shops on the ground floor stuffed with vegetables of uncertain provenance and quality. One of the most fantastic sights is the many "pasearperros" - the professional dog walkers of Buenos Aires. Argentineans, apparently, LOVE dogs, but - the more well-off, apparently - don´t love (or don´t have the time) to walk them. So they hire people to do it. It´s an industry in itself, these guys and gals wearing thick leather belts with countless rings to which any number of leashes can be attached. They look like small, walking canine islands - it´s the most amazing sight! ! As the pasearperros go from place to place, picking up or dropping off dogs, the rest wait patiently (or, if there are Jack Russels in the bunch, NOT so patiently) outside at whatever railing they're briefly tied to.

Pasearperros
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Museums, museums, museums...
An amazing surprise and my absolute favourite was the National Museum of Fine Arts - a relatively small but absolutely outstanding national and international collection fantastically displayed against dramatically coloured walls, including more El Grecos than I´ve ever seen in one place before. For the first time, I could see and understand why he is considered great. The South American Modern Art museum, on the other hand (praised to the skies in the guidebooks) was (IMO) a big MEH!!! Sorry, but I do not find a pile of potatoes with battery wires stuck into them "Art" (even with a small "a"). Museo Fortabat - the private art collection of the richest woman in Argentena - was somewhere in between. I was surprised to see that her first name was Amalia - the same as the oldest daughter of the Dutch crown prince (and his Argentinian wife). They must have been pleased to find a name that has historic connotations in BOTH countries.

Last, but not least, we also checked out the Evita Museum. History (depending on who your source is) either deifies or demonizes Eva Peron, but it´s undisputable that she´s left an unerasable stamp on the national sensibility of this country. To this day, she holds the title - bestowed on her just months before she died at the age of 33 - of its "Spiritual Leader" I´ve seen the musical, read a number of in-depth articles (never a biography, although - after this - I´m curious to), and have now seen the museum (which definitely takes the ´Saint Evita´ viewpoint). It was located in a building which was the headquarters of the charitable foundation she set up. A great deal of it was taken up with displays of her clothes, shoes and handbags (a costume geek heaven!), but there were also a lot of video and audio snippets - some of which were from her most famous speeches - including the one in which she declined being the Vice Presidential candidate on her husband´s re-election ticket. The official reason was that she just wanted to ´support´, not ´govern´. The reality was that she knew she was in the last stages of cancer. Still, voices and their tone can reveal a lot - and hers made me really feel for her. I think she was kind of like Princess Diana. Someone who truly was concerned about the needy and disenfranchised, but who also did not hesitate to use that to further and enhance their own public image. And I can imagine her urgent need and desire to do so, considering her beginnings (which were so unpropitious even SHE felt the need to muffle them up). Because there is so little reliable, impartial, first-hand information about her, we´ll never be sure what really drove Evita, but that only makes her a more mysterious, unfathomable and - at least here - mythic figure. The same goes for Che Gueverra. There´s no museum for him, but being here and seeing so many photos, I dug into Wikipedia and other sources and read more about him than I ever have before. He´s also deified and demonized. A priveliged young man who became a doctor, and gave it up to fight against the oppression of the poor by the rich. And ended up becoming what many would call a terrorist himself. Travelling is one of the best history and sociology lessons you can get.

Art and Evita...
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Tango!
Argentinians know foreigners want to experience tango, so there are tons of (dinner) shows on offer, most of them wincingly expensive and (as we understood) with pretty mediocre food. Most sounded like tourist traps, but we didn´t want to get stuck in TOO big of one, so checked around available reports and reviews and settled on a quite small show. It showed the ´evolution´ of tango over the decades in five different acts, from how it started in the low-class barrios, until it took good society by storm. Very informative, and the dancers were great! Although tango, by the way, is just as much about the songs as the dance. In between the dance parts, there were some great singers too. When we were at the weekly San Telmo market, we also saw an adorable older couple who danced to the music of a couple of truly fantastic guitarists. We (still) hope one of the evenings we´re still in BA to hit a dance club which is dedicated to tango. No ´show´- just where the locals go to hit the floor.

Markets, Tango and more...
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G-O-O-O-O-A-A-A-A-L-L-L-L!!!!!
I almost jumped out of my seat the first time a goal was scored during a soccer game that was playing on the TV in a corner of our hostel. By now I have come to realize it is standard procedure for the announcer to scream "G-O-O-O-O-A-A-A-A-L-L-L-L!!!!!" for as loud and (especially) LONG as he can every time there is one! I thought the Dutch were rabid soccer fans, but they are nothing compared to Argentinians. At our hostel, we had the opportunity to get tickets to a game of Boca Junior - THE major team in the country - which has produced some of the Argentinia´s most stellar players, including Maradona. It´s roots (and stadium) are in the La Boca section of the city, which is also the toughest, roughest, and scruffiest one in Buenos Aires. Every guide book advises you, do NOT go their on your own. We were properly chaperoned - a pick-up at our hotel by a minivan with other tourists and a guide. We were dropped near a police barrier and security checkpoint that tons of people were streaming through. On the other side, our guide ushered us into what I can only call a "tourist pen" - a kind of big garage full of other gringos who were being "protected" from the great unwashed masses outside. There, we were given chorizo sandwiches (bleh) and cold beer (all included in the ticket price) and I amused myself with watching utterly drunken Aussies until it was time to head into the stadium. Once we got there, we realized we didn´t have designated seats, but just had to find space where we could squeeze ourselves in on the concrete benches (we were in the "cheap seats" - and they were PACKED) wherever we could. Soccer doesn´t usually hold my attention that much, but the game was actually pretty exciting with a lot of action. Boca scored twice (and won), but the high point was the fans. I have NEVER seen such fanatic yelling, singing, stamping, clapping and roaring at any sport event ever. Afterwards, the police kept each upper level of the stadium blocked off until the levels below had been emptied (which meant we had to wait for ages to leave). Super security!

Into the heart of Boca

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Los Madres
Most people have heard, I think, about the Mothers of Plaza Mayo - and they are still there. Even though most of them are quite old by now, they still show up every Thursday to take at least a few symbolic turns around the plaza. For those who haven´t heard of them, these are some of the most courageous women you can probably imagine. After Evita died, Juan Peron apparently had more and more difficulty holding on to power and his efforts to do so resulted in oppressions, political kidnappings and other chaos. In the midst of it, there was increasing public support for the military to step in. This just took the country out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it resulted in an even more oppressive military dictatorship which lasted more than a decade. During it, things such as homosexuals, long hair, and groups of more than three forming in public were outlawed. In the course of that time, some 30,000 people, most of them young dissentors, were picked up - and completely disappeared. On April 30, 1977, 14 mothers of these missing people showed up on the Plaza del Mayo, pictures of their children pinned to their chests and with diapers tied on their heads, demanding to know where their children were. The police reminded them of the "three people gathering" law, and forced them to disperse. The next day they showed up again - taking care to stay apart in 4 groups of 3, and 1 group of 2. Day after day they showed up - and more people started showing up too, heartened by their example. It was the first crack of social resistance that marked the beginning of the end of the military dictatorship. I don´t think any of the missing children every turned up again. It later came out that most of them were taken out in military airplanes over the ocean and dumped in with concrete around their feet. The mother´s know, by now, that their children are dead, but they still show up once a week for a two-fold reason.

The first reason is purely symbolic: to give an ongoing testimony and reminder that, as bad and warped as politicians and democracy can be, it´s better than a military dictatorship in which NO voice of the people is allowed whatsoever. And I must say the population here has embraced that right with a vengeance. There are demonstrations here - large and small - almost every single DAY! The government, according to people we´ve spoken to, doesn´t seem to pay much attention to them - but the people still get out there and enthusiastically shout and protest against whatever they don´t agree with. The second reason is - the "mothers" are still looking for their grandchildren. Not all of the people arrested in the 70s were singles. Pregnant women and whole young families also disappeared. As heartless as the dictatorship was, they couldn´t bring themselves to murder infants and toddlers. Especially when, amongst the ruling military families, there were quite a number of couples who didn´t - or couldn´t - have children. Since sponsors set up a free DNA testing service a number of years back, open to anyone who was born during those repressive years, 104 children of "the disappeared" have been identified - the last one not even a month ago. Even this "victory", however, is a bitter-edged and morally complex one. These people, now in their late 30s and early 40s, are discovering that the people who raised them - people they surely love - are not only NOT their real parents, but were directly or indirectly, responsible for the death of their real mothers and fathers. Why do we need horror stories, I sometimes wonder, when reality can be so cruel? But the fact remains that the most heart-warming thing I have seen in my time here is the reception the mothers received when they pulled up in their little mini-bus at the plaza. There was a huge crowd waiting for them - only a small percentage of which were tourists. The rest were Argentinian, many bearing signs and flags themselves with messages such as "thank you for your courage and example". When the women exited the bus, some of them now so infirm they have to be supported by nurses, there was such a roaring and cheering and clapping, before the crowd burst whole-heartedly into some song (I could only make out that it was about "los madres") and followed them around and around the square.

Los Madres and modern-day (EVERY day!) demonstrations

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Country of the constant kissing!
I think I already mentioned in one of my previous posts how physically warm and affectionate South Americans are. Watching any group of friends or family meeting or sitting next to you at a table and it seems to be almost non-stop touching, hugs and kisses. Here, it seems to extend even farther! Not that I want to dwell or report in detail on my medical experiences here, but they gave me super interesting insight into this part of the Argentinian culture in its own right. As I was in the waiting room for my very first consultation, I was craning my neck left and right watching not only the medical colleagues coming and going greeting each other with kisses, but also the patients as they were called in! "Am I supposed to kiss the doctor, do you think?", I somewhat nervously asked Gerard. "Of course not", my 'nuchtere' Dutchman answered. So although Dr. Gonzalez beamed at me when it was finally my turn and we came face to face, I only timidly offered my hand. Thankfully, I think they're used to uptight Europeans here (it's a German hospital, after all), and she didn't seem to hold it against me.

My second visit, when I met the specialist - Dr Cimmino - who was going to do the procedure, he also came barreling in like he was expecting a group hug to start the meeting, but there was a desk in between us, and I got the idea that Dr Gonzalez shot him something like a warning look. But on the day of the procedure itself, all barriers started breaking down. When Dr Gonzalez came up to where we were waiting to give me a little brief on what was going to be happening, we spontaneously greeted each other with a kind of shy little hug. Then, after I'd been taken apart and gowned and capped, the anesthegiologist burst in, grabbed me by the shoulders, and planted a big smack on my cheek. "Hola!" he said, and started rattling off in Spanish.

OK, WHAT am I signing?
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I had immediate confidence in him. He was in his late 40s or so, and looked like a taller, slightly less bald version of Stanley Tucci. But I DID want to understand what he was saying and what it was he wanted me to sign. After a bit of linguistic exploration and sign language that tested the limits of his English and my Spanish, he grinned and said, "you are accepting me to put you to bed?" I gave him a high five (which cracked him up), signed, and they wheeled me in to a procedure room which - how lovely! - had big windows looking out over a garden. Dr Tucci got me IV´d up as quickly, neatly and painlessly as anyone ever has, while we chatted (or tried to) about where I'd been in South America. As he started injecting the syringe with the knock-out sedative into the IV he winked and said, "Sweet dreams"- I winked too and answered, "Hasta la vista!" He cracked up again, and shot back, "Hasta la vista, baby!!"

During my post-op check-up the next day, Dr Gonzalez, Dr Cimmino and I became firmly established kissing cousins. And I must say that such gestures of affection DO give you a feeling of friendship, intimacy and connection that I've never felt with any medical practitioners before. I can't imagine how it would be if any of them had been people that I'd rather NOT kiss on the cheek - I imagine that must be the case, sometimes. But that wasn't so as far as I was concerned - they are utterly lovely people. Perhaps more so BECAUSE we are "kissing cousins". Maybe that's the point. Gestures of affection automatically make you feel more affectionate towards the people you share them with.

Anyway, we have to wait until the lab results get back from the procedure and, having explored Buenos Aires from top to bottom, we've decided to take a short trip to Uruguay - another country that was not on either list - in between. We'll be hitting Colonia (a World Heritage city), Montevideo - the capital - and Punta del Este, an apparently very nice seaside resort, even though it's not really beach weather here yet. In the meantime, some last pics from the very friendly and lovely hostel we've been staying at - taken when we watched a soccer match (Argentinia-Brazil: MAJOR drama), and when I participated in an empañada-making class, as well as a couple from when we treated ourselves at La Calabra - THE best steak (according to locals) in all Argentenia. It was indeed an awesome meal!

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Posted by Karenlee 14:30 Archived in Argentina Comments (6)

Over the border and into the wild

Bolivia is an unexpectedly wierd and interesting place

sunny 22 °C

Omigod, we're in Tupiza, Bolivia at 'only' 9,000 feet - and it's WARM! I'm sitting here in just a sleeveless dress and sandals and there's a breeze blowing that for the first time in more than a month is NOT giving me goosebumps. I almost forgot what that felt like!!! But obviously we didn't apparate or beam into here directly from Puno, so I'll fill you in on what we've been up to for the past couple of weeks.

We hit the road again two days after our stay on the floating island, taking an early morning bus that got us to the Bolivian border in just a few hours. Formalities took a little while - the bus dropped you off on the Peru side where you had to report to various officials before walking through a kind of 'no mans land' into Bolivia where more officials were waiting. But by noon we were in Copacabana, a little town built picturesquely on a bay on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. We had a lovely hostel perched up on the hill, and in our room was a real, little wood-burning fireplace. You can be sure we made good use of that, because as sunny as it is during the day, it gets pretty damn COLD at night. It was lovely lighting it up before going to sleep, and then lying in bed watching the flames dance and crackle while drowsing off.

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Copa was a nice little place to while away a couple days, although there wasn't all that much to do and see there. The main draw is the Isla del Sol (island of the sun) which you could reach in 1-2 hours by boat - depending on what part of it you were going to. There are no motor vehicles or paved roads on the island, but tons of Inca ruins and archaeologists have discovered evidence of habitation back to the third century BC. According to the Inca religion, Isla del Sol was the birthplace of the sun god, and that - of course- is something you've gotta' see for yourself. We'd heard there was a great hiking path which went from one end of the island to another, so we packed our small backpacks for an overnight stay, left the big ones in the hostel's left luggage and jumped on the boat. Originally, we were planning on getting off at the village of Yumani on the south side of the island, staying there overnight, then hiking to the big ruins on the north side the next morning and getting the boat back to Copa late that afternoon at the nearby village of Cha'llapampa. However the kid driving the boat (honestly, he couldn't have been more than 14) had other ideas, as he blithely - despite our startled protests - sailed right by Yumani!

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Ah well, nothing to do in such a case but change your plans. We got out at Cha'llapampa where there was a (required) ranger/guide from the local equivalent of the park service waiting to take people to the Ch'uxuqullu ruins - the most important ones on the island - up in the hills above the village. The hike up to them took about an hour and along the way the guide stopped to explain things, such as how the ancient irrigation system worked - in Spanish. It was heartening to realize that I could understand at least 25% of what he was saying! The ruins themselves were actually nothing really special - I'm afraid we've gotten rather jaded after the amazing sites we saw on the Inca trail - but we obligingly admired the building remains, the sacred rock from which the sun god sprang, and the ancient sacrificial altar which was still standing. The latter was actually pretty cool - I'd never seen anything like that before - and the views from up there were quite spectacular.

They got even more so on the three-hour hike to Yumani. The path was almost completely on the top of the mountain ridge that runs like a spine through the middle of the island, so you had a constant 360-degree sweep of landscape all around you. The sky was also amazing - it seemed so bloody BIG - and after discussing with Gerard I realized why that was: At almost 14,000 feet, we were at a level with (or even a bit above) the few clouds out on the horizon. It was almost like being up in the heavens.

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As we continued on and eventually reached Yumani, I started feeling really glad that the kid had sailed on by it that morning. The hike - which was strenuous enough as it was - would actually have been quite a bit more difficult going the other way. The long, steep, uphill stretch between Yumani harbour and the mountain ridge (which was now downhill for us) would have been an utterly exhausting start to the day, and the sun would have been blazing in our face the whole hike, instead of at our backs. 'Geluk bij een ongeluk' as they say in Dutch!

We spent one more day in Copacabana after getting back from Isla del Sol, then it was on to La Paz, the second-largest city in Bolivia. The bus trip there was fantastic for a number of reasons. Firstly, for the water crossing we made at the narrowest point of Lake Titicaca.

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. Everybody had to get off the bus, which they then rolled onto a huge (but rather rickety looking) barge-like thing that ferried it across to the other side while we followed it over in a little wooden boat. Why there isn't a bridge there is a mystery to me, but I got such a kick out of the experience I'm glad they haven't built one.

Secondly, for the scenery which was just amazing. As we drove on, the huge, jagged ridge of the Bolivian Andes started to rear its head. I've never seen so many awesome peaks so close together. It was so dreamlike, it hardly seemed like it could be real.

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Lastly, for that unbelievable first view of La Paz. The city is built in a huge canyon - the poorer neighborhoods starting all the way up at either rim on the top, and getting progressively more affluent all the way down the canyon walls until you got to the skyscrapers at the very bottom.

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The only other city that I´ve ever had such a gobsmacking first glimpse of was Hong Kong.

La Paz reminded me of Hong Kong in other ways, too - especially the incredible bustle and energy. It seems like almost every other street is a curbside market of its own, with people selling everything from pots and pans to fruits and vegetables and even (in the 'Witches Market') llama foetuses.

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There's a downside to all this frantic, non-stop activity though. Traffic - and air quality - is pretty ghastly, as it has been in all the big (and sometimes even the not-so-big) cities we've visited. I still haven't completely gotten rid of the cold I had when I left Holland. It's started to get better a number of times when we've been off hiking or in the jungle, but then we head back to 'civilization' and I'm sneezing, coughing, hacking and hoarse again in no time. I'm thinking the altitude might also be playing a role (it can have a variety of effects on your system - especially respiratory) but we'll have to drop down a couple more thousand feet before that theory can be tested.

We only stayed in La Paz a few days. That was long enough to explore the city's churches, markets and museums, and there aren't really any interesting excursions outside of it. I especially liked the National Museum of Art where you could visually make out - from the time of the Spanish conqurers to the present day - the evolution, development (perhaps I should even say 'survival') of the unique Bolivian social, cultural and political sensibility. History can be twisted and distorted (and it often is), but art, however subjective, will always speak its own truth. The artwork I saw in that museum told volumes about what the Bolivians have experienced and endured. There were some breathtakingly gorgeous pieces in it, and I was really disappointed when arriving at the simple gift shop at the end that none of them were included in the few postcards on offer. THOSE were the ones I really would have liked to send to people!

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The Coca Museum was also extremely interesting, and a real eye-opener into the deep and multi-faceted significance that coca leaf has all throughout this part of South America. It plays a complex and important role in local life that has been blithely ignored for centuries by everyone, from the Spanish conquistadors to the US government and its "War on Drugs". Coca leaves, whether chewed or drunk in tea, are NOT addictive. They also happen to be incredibly nutritious - not an unimportant thing when so many people live in poverty - and have proven positive medicinal effects. The leaves are shared with friends and guests the same way you would offer a glass of wine or beer, and the feeling of uplifted well-being it creates helps to lubricate social conversation and interaction. The exchange of leaves is often part of important events, such as a couple getting engaged. The 'higher plane' that you experience chewing coca leaves is also seen as putting you closer to the spiritual realm, and they've been a key element of religious ritual since way before the times of the Inca. The Spanish orginally clamped down incredibly hard on its use by the natives until they realized miners and other slave laborers were MUCH more productive when chewing coca leaves. THEN, they had no problem with freely allowing it - and (how typically hypocritical!) slapping a 10% tax on it! Since the majority of UN countries collectively denounced coca leaf in the 1960s as something dangerous that needs to be controlled, there have been severe restrictions on the amount that can be produced for traditional domestic use - which has seriously inhibited and subverted a culture and way of life that has been happily existing and flourishing since before written history. Meanwhile, the production of coca leaves for cocaine continues to flourish completely unchecked in jungle hideaways. A typical example of a stupid international solution to the completely wrong (perceived) problems.

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One last thing that was really good about La Paz was the possibility of getting 'western' food that actually looked and tasted like it's supposed to. Usually, you have to have VERY low expectations when you stray away from the simple, local cuisine. Order 'yogurt with fruit and muesli', and you're likely to get a bowl half filled with fruit topped with sugar-coated puffed wheat and corn, with a shotglass full of strawberry-flavored yogurt on the side (and, no, I did not finish it). But in La Paz, you can actually get a decent Cuban sandwich, Indian curry, and even - are you ready for this, Dutchies - hutspot met gehaktbal en jus! We made sure to enjoy the culinary opportunities to the max, because after La Paz, it was on to more primitive, 'roughing it' adventures in the southwest of Bolivia.

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The 'Salar de Uyuni' is the world's largest salt flat (10,582 square kilometers, or 4,086 sq miles). It's one of the most popular attractions in Bolivia - you head out in a four-wheel drive in small groups for a tour that typically lasts 2-3 days, also taking in part of a remote National Reserve that has very wild and strange scenery. We wanted to go for a little longer though, and we also wanted to form our own relatively small group, rather than being crammed into a jeep with strangers, so we could have more control over our schedule and what we did. After a three-hour bus ride followed by a seven-hour train trip, we arrived in the town of Uyuni. The very next morning, when dropping off our laundry, we met up with three great Australian gals - two sisters and a friend of theirs - who had the same kind of trip in mind that we did. Nicole, Rebecca and Joanna (or - in Aussie-lingo - "Nic, Beck and Jo") went one way to check out what various agencies offered and would charge, and we went another. We met a couple hours later to compare offers and prices, then went back to the best-sounding one to hammer out details. The very next morning, we were off.

The journey isn’t easy – it can get extremely cold, and you stay in very basic accommodation without heating or warm water.

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We spent up to 10 hours a day in the jeep along very bumpy, rocky, rough tracks - no asphalt whatsoever - and some of them so high up I didn´t dare look over the edge at times. And all of this in a pretty harsh, almost uninhabited environment at altitudes between 4,000-5000 metres (13,000-16,000 feet). You have to lug along just about everything you need while out there, down to the very last drop of gasoline. But it was absolutely worth it for the opportunity to experience such incredible landscapes. We were on the salt flats within an hour of leaving Uyuni, and they were one of the most amazing and disorienting places I've ever been in.

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The area was part of the ocean until tectonic plate movement formed the Andes and turned it into a land-locked lake from which the water eventually evaporated, leaving only a six-meter layer of salt and a few small coral 'islands'. It's almost impossible to describe what it's like to be speeding along in a landscape that is white and utterly empty around you as far as the eye can see, with only a blazing blue sky overhead.

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For lunch we stopped at Isla Incahuasi - one of the coral 'islands'. The coral, of course, is all petrified by now, and the big rocky hill is covered in huge cacti - some are almost a thousand years old. It was a truly surreal sight in that huge white desert. While our driver prepared lunch, we followed a signposted walk around the island that was absolutely fantastic.

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. That evening, after watching the sun go down over the flats with a bottle of wine, we stayed in the most 'luxurious' accomodation we would have - a salt 'hotel' on the edge of the flats. Everything was made of salt blocks – the beds, walls, tables and chairs, and you walked around a loose, crunchy covering of salt on the floor.

The following days were spent making our way - often starting off even before the sun rose - through the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna, which was so beautifully strange and odd it was almost like a non-stop hallucination.

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We stopped at lakes and lagoons colored blue, green, red and white by micro-organisms or minerals - including borax and arsenic. We passed through deserts with crazy rock formations - one of which (Desierto de Dali) inspired the artist Dali to create his famous 'melting watches' painting. We saw smoking volcanoes, petrified lava waves, geysers steaming like locomotives, and mountain ranges as multi-coloured as ice-cream sundaes. In between, there were llamas, vicuñas, and flamingos roaming wild by the hundreds, and a few incredibly shy groups of ostriches! Unlike other groups we heard from, we had no real problems or breakdowns with the jeep, thank God - and only two flat tires. Not bad!

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The Aussie gals - a marine biologist, automotive engineer, and psychologist who is going to be staying to work in a Peruvian village for a while - were incredibly nice and interesting.

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Our driver, Edgar, was a fantastic fount of information about everything we saw, and the weather was - thankfully - not as bitterly cold as we'd feared it would be (although we did dive into bed and under pounds of covers as soon as we finished dinner each night). One morning, we risked pneumonia getting into our bathing suits to steam in blissfully hot thermal pools situated right next to ice-crusted lakes through which a few flamingos fastidiously picked their way.

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By the time the tour ended yesterday in Tupiza (relatively near the Argentinian border), we were all jolted to the bone and dusty in every single pore of our bodies, but what a trip! That said, the shower I dove into first thing at the hotel was one of the most enjoyable of my life. And along with that, it appears I´m actually - finally - in temperate weather again. Hopefully I can put away the thermal underwear, fleece jacket, one pair of pants and two long-sleeved shirts I've been living in for the last 6 weeks and pull out the lighter clothes that have been uselessly taking up the rest of the room in my backpack. Actually, it´s not ´hopefully´, but pretty definite I can. Tomorrow, it´s off to Buenos Aires! Although.... 20-hour bus ride - GROAN!!!

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Posted by Karenlee 13:19 Archived in Bolivia Comments (4)

Busses, planes and our own two feet...

Because there´s more to Peru than just Cuzco province...

sunny 11 °C

The Cuzco region had so much to offer that it held us for a good three weeks, but it was finally time to move on. We headed off down to the southeast to Nazca on one of those fantastic overnight busses (aside from lay-down seats, they also give you dinner and movies!) that I wrote about in my ´Odds and Ends´ post. We woke just as the sun was coming up, and the bus started to descend from the Andes foothills into the flat desert coast area where the city is located. Often there´s mist over the desert in the morning, and today was no exception. It looked like there was a sea of clouds spread out below, with the last of the mountaintops sticking up through them. It was an awesome sight!

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We´d arranged in advance in Cuzco for a flight over the Nazca lines late that morning, but you´ve got to be prepared for the occasional screw up when travelling like this - the local agency had no record of our booking. The staff, however, sprang very helpfully into action and after multiple phone calls we found ourselves around 4pm climbing into a little Cesna airplane at a tiny dirt airstrip on the edge of town. Most people have heard of the Nazca lines, I expect - huge diagrams and figures that were carved into the desert floor here by a long-ago civilization for reasons no one knows (although there are a lot of theories). At first, they were a bit more difficult to make out than I expected, and I completely missed the first one.

G: See the whale?
K: No, where? I don´t see a whale
G: Just under the wingtip, see there´s the head, and the back, and the...
K: I see a ditch. Is the whale in the ditch?
G: In the DITCH? No, it´s HUGE, it´s right there!
K: *starts furiously cleaning glasses*

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Eventually, I picked up on how to spot the outlines, and the pilot did awesome ´butterfly´ dips back and forth that took each side of the plane very low for a good view over each formation. Unfortunately, this did NOT sit well with the guy in the other couple flying with us. Within 10 minutes, he was busily filling all the barf bags their row of seats was stocked with, and the pilot eventually ended up cutting our flight short by a good five minutes. That was a bit of a bummer, but he was obviously feeling so miserable I had sympathy with us getting back down quickly, and I DID get really good looks at most of the figures I really wanted to see. Not, unfortunately, photos, as those things are damn hard to get framed and in focus in a moving airplane. The only one that really worked for me was ´the spaceman´ (which locals insist is simply an image of an ancient shaman). Gerard, however, somehow managed to get some decent ones on his iPhone (unfortunately, can´t upload them here).

Aside from the lines, there's not much to do or see in Nazca, so we'd only arranged to stay one night. But the next day - while we were waiting for the night bus to Arequipa - we did do one other excursion which was unexpectedly amazing to the necropolis of Chuichilla. The pre-Inca civilization here buried their dead in carefully prepared pits which were only discovered in the 1940s. After that, grave robbers did their damage, but the site is protected now and enough was preserved to give visitors today an incredible glimpse into the past. What is especially cool is that the remains have not been carted of to museums in Lima, but left in a very simple and respectful open-air 'museum' that you can walk around. We had a great guide who gave us lots of insights into what the clothing and hair of the mummies said about their social status.

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After another night bus, we arived in Arequipa - unless another city proves me wrong, my favourite in all Peru. Less hectic than Cuzco, and more cosmopolitan and gracious. I absolutely loved it. We were there for the city's founding day celebrations, which included a marvelous parade of countless groups of people enthusiastically dancing by in regional costumes.

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It is a city - literally - on the edge, surrounded by three volcanos and sitting right on top of a huge tectonic plate. One of the biggest volcanoes - Misti - you can see right behind the main Cathedral. Earthquakes and eruptions are a fact of life here. A local guide told me that three minor earthquakes - too small to feel in the bustle of the big city - occur every day. Every single hotel and restaurant has a clearly designated spot which you should flee to and huddle under if the ground starts shaking. But the locals seem to accept the danger stoically, and go about their business as if nothing is going on.
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Arequipa is also the starting point for going into the Colca Canyon - twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, so - of course - Gerard wanted to get to the bottom of it (*sigh*). Our three-day excursion started with an early morning pick-up with 10 other travellers. We took a roundabout way through protected nature parks where we got to see free-roaming herds of vicunas, llamas and alpacas up close.
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It's an incredibly dry region, a kind of landscape that doesn't usually appeal to me - I love water, vegetetion, greenery - but it had an austere majesty even I could appreciate. Then up, up, up to another incredibly high Andes mountain pass which was an awesome testimony to the honour in which the Peruvians (no matter WHAT their Catholic Spanish conquerors tried to beat into them) still hold their ancient gods and religion.

For 360 degrees around were landmark volcanos and mountain peaks - one of them is the source of the Amazon, on others, ancient human sacrifices of children had been found (most within a 100 year period in which the volcanos had been particularly active) to try and appease the angry gods. And on that high pass, were countless tributes of stones piled upon stones that travellers - most LONG before us - had left for Pachumama, the Earth Mother. They stretched out from the road in fields almost as far as the eye could see.

I must say something about those human sacrifices because I saw one of them face to face in Arequipa - Juanita, the Ice Maiden. It may seem a terrible thing that cultures would purposely kill a child, but you also have to admit that - even today - cultures are also willing to resort to terrible things in terms of 'human attrition' to try to protect themselves or allay their fears. Potential victims to the gods were apparently chosen at birth from high-born families, and educated from a young age about their noble destiny. They would, perhaps, never be called on, but if the drought was really bad, or the mountains started exploding, it was their fate to be sacrificed in an attempt to appease the gods.

The 12-14 year old Juanita, according to the experts, may well have been taken on a grand and solemn parade all the way to Cuzco to be honoured and venerated before climbing almost 6,000 metres to the very peak of Mount Ampato where, richly dressed, she was killed and buried with great and reverent ceremony. What makes her especially unique is that the icy conditions preserved her body - including clothing, skin, hair, organs, and even stomach contents - so perfectly. National Geographic named her one of the ten top scientific finds of the last century Information about Juanita. We saw her - along with many artefacts collected from the burial site - in a museum in Arequipa, and it was extremely solemn, sad and touching. There is no telling with what feelings - from fear to pride - that this young girl lost her life, but there is no denying that in doing so, she herself has become almost as immortal as the gods that her people worshiped.

After spending the night on the rim of the canyon, we started hiking down early the next morning. 3,600 hundred feet downhill is no joyride, but the views were awesome. Over the rim at the top, we could just barely see the amazing destination waiting for us - the Oasis - a rich, green, river-fed Eden at the very bottom, complete with sparkling swimming pools - where we camped for the night. It more than made up for the knee-knocking hike down. The stars, just like in Manu - were unbelievable.

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Unfortunately, the next morning, we had to go back UP. We started at 5am to avoid the sun beating down on us during the climb. It was tough, but I stubbornly stuck to my own pace - communing with Pachamama all the way. I was the last of our group to make it back to the top (Gerard - the first - was there almost an HOUR before me) but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared it would be.
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Afterwards, we headed back up the valley we'd come down and stopped at a viewpoint where we could see the huge condors who live in the canyon swirling and circling on the updrifts. They are the world's biggest birds with wingspans up to 12 feet wide, and we stayed almost 45 minutes watching almost a dozen of them majestically floating around.
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After that, we had a quick lunch and visit to a hot springs before our group split up. The majority went on back to Arequipa, but we were put into another, smaller bus with another couple heading to Puno on Lake Titicaca further south. The bus may have been smaller, bit with four of us it was quite roomy and luxurious. I could even appropriate a whole row of seats to nap a bit on the 4-hour drive!

I roused myself as we headed into Juliaca, the last big city before Puno where I saw (again) one of the strangest things I've noticed in South America in one of its strongest manifestations: houses where the ground floor has been built and finished, and the upper floor simply left abandoned when it was halfway. Various people and guides have explained this is the way things go here. You start building something until the money runs out, and then you just let it sit until you have money enough to go on with building. I'd gotten used to the sight of weird, half-finished houses here and there, but Juliaca took the cake. This was a HUGE city, which had barely any buildings that seemed to be finished. Ground floors were all topped with garish, extruding cables of steel and half-built brick walls. Very odd and disorienting.

Puno is not a super attractive city, but it´s right on Lake Titicaca, the highest naviagable lake in the world at more than 11,000 feet, and a lot of people head here just to experience the lake. The biggest draws are certain islands where indigenous people still live largely undisturbed and, especially, the ´Uros Islands´, a cluster of 65 small ones that have been built out of reeds, as are the houses in which people live on them. We heard it was very unique, but also something of a tourist trap if you went on the day-long excurions which stopped at one handicraft sales point after another. So instead of that, we arranged to stay at the only Uros island on which a local family offered overnight accomodations. We were picked up at 10:00am last Monday morning with two other guests, and ferried out there in a little wooden motorboat through a maze of channels in the reeds. The islands really ARE small - just 100x100 yards at the most. Anywhere from 2-6 families live on each one. The little cabins and dining hall which our host family had built to accomodate guests took up about 1/3 of our island. Four other families lived on the rest, and I got the idea that they helped out at the accomodation as cooks, boatmen to take people back and forth to Puno, etc. It was absolutely fantastic - everyone was so warm and welcoming, and the accomodations were much nicer and more comfortable than I´d expected. They had a lovely little lounge area set up with parasols and hammocks, and they even had hot showers run by solar panels.
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It´s a very strange feeling walking around on those islands - you sink and spring a bit in the reeds with each step. They gave us a delicious lunch after which we explored every corner of the island (didn´t take long!), relaxed in in the lounge area, and watched the constant parade of tourist boats hustling people on and off all the other islands around us. By the end of the afternoon, however, all the tourist traffic was finished. Our hosts amused themselves by dressing us up in traditional dress, then took us out on a gorgeous boat made out of reeds (EVERYTHING is made of that stuff here, not just the islands but the houses, boats, parasols, watchtowers and more) to empty their fishing nets.
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That was followed by a dinner every bit as good as the lunch and an early bedtime - it felt even more bloody cold than it usually is at night at these altitudes. Perhaps it was because we were on the lake? In any case, we had - literally - POUNDS of blankets on our beds, and hot water bottles under them. Once you were inside and had stopped shivering, it was quite comfy! The stars (when I went out to pee in the middle of the night) were awesome.
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Although the other guests had to leave early the next morning to catch a bus (the hosts would take you back to the mainland whenever you wanted), we elected to stay on our private little island until mid-afternoon. It was a much nicer place to read and relax than in Puno! But we had to head back at a certain point, because we had booked a ferry to take us to one of the 'real' islands further into the lake the next morning. That excursion, however, was something of a disappointment - bit also a learning experience. We had understood it was strictly a transport-ferry service. But no. On the way they stopped at - yes - the Uros islands and tried to shove everyone off at the one right next to where we´d stayed, where fetchingly dressed local girls stood like cheerleaders along the quay to pull you in and show you their wares. Gerard and I stayed on the boat, and from this viewpoint we could see that every island within view - except 'ours´of the night before - had all kinds of advertisements on their banks and watchtowers. What with that stop, arguments between the island and boat owner about whether G and I had to pay the island ´entrance fee´ even though we didn´t get off the boat, and engine problems, we were almost two hours later getting to the Taquile island than we thought.

And once there, it was a different kind of thing than I´d thought. This really was partially my problem. I thought we would just land at the main village which we could then enjoy exploring for a couple hours. But if I´d read the Lonely Planet information about the island more closely, I would have known that once you got there, you had to hike up almost 30 minutes to get up to the main village. As we were arriving, the ´host´on the boat also gave the extra information that, from the village, we also had to calculate another half hour to hike back down to the other side of the island where the boat would be waiting to take us back to Puno at 2:20pm. In short, outside of the ´walking´ that we did on the island to get from one place to another, we had around 40 minutes in total (what with the delays etc) to just ´be´ there.

This was a perfect example of how wrong expectations, misinformation, and unexpected complications can combine to make you suddenly feel miserable when travelling. I started slogging up that (very) steep incline from the harbour, dressed MUCH too warmly for the heat beating down on me, and was really on the verge of tears. But I took a deep breath and thought 'What can I do to feel better NOW?' - and number 1 was to take off as many goddamn clothes off as possible. I did, and things immediately improved. As we walked on and - especially- when we reached the main square of the villae, I started to comprehend that I may have misunderstood the whole nature of the excursion. It was the WALKING around this island that was the main thing - because the village itself wasn´t much. The pathway, however, was wonderful. Once I got in my head that the HIKE was the main attraction of the thing, I started to enjoy myself again. It WAS beautiful, and the proud, insular islanders (it was the very last last place in Peru to submit to the Spanish conquerors, and they still primarily intermarry among each other) were fascinating to see in their traditional dress.

That was, in any case, our very last excursion in Peru for the time being. Tomorrow early a.m., we get on a bus that will take us to Copacabana - a small town on the other side of Lake Titicaca, which is in Bolivia. I am rather upset at the moment because not all the pictures I wanted to include with this blog post are in here. I´ve been working on it for a number of days over a number of cities, and this afternoon I´d uploaded the last images (especially from Lake Titicaca) that I wanted to include in an internet cafe. But - GAHHH - now that I´ve come back to finish this post, they are GONE from this computer, and they are also no longer showing up on my camera display :( :( :(. VERY upsetting, but I am not going to get my knickers in a twist. Maybe I will be able to get to them on the memory card itself and share them with you later. In any case, they will always be in my head. Until next time....

Posted by Karenlee 20:16 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

Jungle Adventures

Up the Madre de Dios River into the Amazon

sunny 26 °C

Peru has three extremely different enviroments: the coastline is almost all desert, then you have the high-altitudes of the Andes cutting down the middle of the country like a backbone, and on the other side of them, the lowland tropics where the Amazon basin starts. Before we left on the Inca Trail, we booked a five-day excursion into the Manu National Park, which encompasses the Peruvian part of the Amazon. Two days after we got back from the trail, off we went. Besides G and me, there was one other couple from the States on the trip - a guy and gal in their early to mid 20s who were very nice, but also strictly observant Jews whose determination to keep kosher on the trip caused some amusing complications now and then with Jorge, the cook. The leader of our little group was our Abraham, a SUPER pleasant and friendly guy who turned out to be an incredibly knowledgeable and experienced guide.

The drive there was amazing. I thought we were already pretty damn high up in Cusco, but we had to go higher still. Up, up, up with the landscape getting even more dry and bare and the icy peaks getting closer and closer until we went over the Abra Pirhuayani pass at almost 15,000 feet. There was very little up there - just an isolated homestead now and then where the few locals who live here breed llamas. Heading downhill from there, things slowly started getting greener as we caught up with the Madre de Dios River, which eventually pours into the Amazon River itself. By the end of the afternoon, when we reached the small city we were to stay in that night, we were already surrounded by rainforest and, if you kept your eyes peeled, you could occasionally already see parrots and macaws flying overhead.

We got an even better look at them early the next morning. We took off at 5:30am, drove 40 minutes and pulled off the road next to what they call a 'clay lick' - a vertical wall with a high percentage of clay, which happens to contain many minerals that certain tropical birds need, but can't get in their diets. At dawn, big groups of them tend to gather at such licks to nibble at the walls. Jorge and Abraham set up a table and chairs on a broad shoulder next to the road with our breakfast, and as we ate we watched dozens and dozens of different kinds of parrots and even a few big, colorful macaws arrive for theirs. Very cool! After another half hour drive, we arrived at a small side river of the Madre de Dios. All our food, water and gear for the jungle was loaded into a rather rickety boat that looked like a mini version of the African Queen which took us across.

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Then we piled ourselves and our stuff into two 'taxis' waiting at the mud bank opposite, which took us for another hour over a very bumpy, unpaved road to our the last outpost of civilization - a tiny dirt town called Colorado on the Madre de Dios itself. We had to wait there a couple hours before loading into another boat and starting on the five-hour journey upriver into the jungle and the small lodge where we´d be staying. We´d gotten up really early and I kept dozing off now and then, but kept jumping awake everytime Abraham shouted out the name of birds and animals he spotted along the way - and man, that guy could pick out a sand-coloured baby cayman on a sand-coloured beach at 200 paces. His eyesight was amazing! Unfortunately, being so sleepy I was a second too late when he yelled "Jaguar!" By the time I looked in the right direction, it had dashed back into the bushes. But I did see the capybara it had been after, which had jumped into the river to escape from being caught and eaten. The lodge was simple (no electricity in the rooms - just candles) but comfortable beds with - thank God - good mosquito nets. Cruising up the river you aren´t bothered by bugs, but the second you step on land they´re everywhere! Still, I gladly put up with getting my first few bites that evening after the sun went down: I think the last time I saw such a stunning starry sky - the Milky Way was a clear and vivid cloud against the inky black - was when we were camping on top of Nemrut Dagi 25 years ago. This was the view we had from our lodge. DSC00688.jpg

We were out on the river again before the sun rose the next morning so we could make it to another clay lick before the birds started arriving. After we got off the boat we had a 20 minute hike to get to it, with Gerard thoughtfully helping to carry our refreshments. DSC00708.jpg

Even though we saw a lot of cool things in the following days, the next few hours that we spent at the lick were - for me - the highlight of the Manu trip. To start with, it was HUGE - much bigger than the one we stopped at the first day. The parrots were sweeping and flying back and forth overhead by the hundreds when we arrived, and they loaded the trees above the lick like ripe apples. They kept twittering and darting around, and Abraham explained it was always a nerve-racking wait for the first one or two to start feeding: it puts them into a very vulnerable position with their back exposed to predatory birds, and only after a few have safely started, will the other ones follow. Should an eagle fly overhead, or anything else spook them, they´ll all immediately flee the lick for the day. As the parrots kept trying to make up their minds, the much bigger and brilliantly multi-coloured macaws slowly started to arrive - it was like seeing countless little pieces of rainbow streaking overhead. Eventually, there were a couple hundred macaws in the trees as well, but the parrots just didn´t want to settle down. Eventually they started swarming away, the macaws, however, suddenly started fluttering lower and lower down the trees, and within just a couple minutes, they were all over the lick. It was such an awesome sight! All told, we were at the lick viewing platform for a few hours - Abraham and Jorge had brought along a simple, but great breakfast of fresh fruit salad, bread and butter, and coffee and tea that we enjoyed while we were there. 1DSC00746.jpg

Afterwards, it was back in the boat and down the river a ways where we got out and headed into the jungle again. Visually, it was just spectacular, with amazing plants and trees, including huge palms with fronds as big as my living room. Abraham was a walking encyclopedia, explaining and pointing things out. He had a great telescope with him which he´d stop now and then to set up, so we got incredibly close looks at monkeys, birds and massive hornets nests up in the trees. But what made the most impression on me were the sounds you heard all around. Chirping and chattering and eerie bird calls unlike any I´d ever heard before. At a certain point, Abraham shushed us, peered ahead up the path, and whispered "wild pigs". Using our own binoculars, we could see three or four shuffling and snuffling for palm kernels a couple hundred feet ahead of us. Suddenly, we heard some strange crashing in the bushes ahead to the left of us, and Abraham said it seemed like there was a good-sized pack of them. "Stay still, and don´t move", he said with a smile. "Maybe they will go away, but if they start coming toward us, climb up a tree or run back as fast as you can to the boat, and I will head them off". I gave a little giggle, then looked at him again.

He was dead serious.

With the adrenaline rush I had at that moment, I´d have been at the top of the nearest tree in NO time. Thankfully, it wasn´t necessary. After another 30 seconds or so, there was an increasing sound of rustling and crashing in the bushes up ahead, and suddenly, a whole HERD of pigs was stampeding across the path and off into the trees to the right of us - there must have been 30 or 40 of them! A real Close Encounter of the Swine Kind! Once they´d taken off, we continued on and soon reached our destination - a simple wooden viewing platform built 120 feet up in a huge kapok tree. Once up there, you had a stunning view over the jungle canopy below, and we spotted a bunch of new types of birds, including a huge owl sleeping in one of the kapok tree branches. DSC00754.jpg

Then we hiked further on to a lake where we saw a couple of giant otters, started to get seriously baked by the sun, and - despite constant spraying of repellent - got increasingly nibbled on by bugs. Getting back to a screened in porch and late lunch at the lodge was very welcome - as was the cold shower afterwards! Late that afternoon, the others hiked off from the lodge to a different kind of lick (salt) that attracts tapirs, but I opted to chill out with a book in the dining hall. As it turned out, I didn´t miss anything - no tapirs showed up anyway. For dinner that night I had my first taste of alpaca - and MAN is it ever delicious! Very tender and with a faint, but rich, flavour that´s really hard to describe. Am definitely planning on having that again sometime.

The next day was full of more lake visits and jungle hikes - saw giant termite larvae, poison dart frogs, hummingbirds, toucans, amazing butterflies and bullet ants that were almost as long as my fingers. Their sting is apparently horrible - it can cause paralysis and even (if enough of them bite you) death. The indigenous people who live in the Amazon (we saw a number of them camping and fishing here and there along the river) tie people who commit really serious crimes (i.e., sexually abusing children) on top of their nests for a specific period of time as punishment. Unfortunately, we did not get around to the piranha fishing I'd been looking forward to. When Abraham explained that the site was in the full sun at that time of day, even I lost my enthusiasm for the idea.

The next day was all taken up with the long trip back to Cuzco. Thankfully, the return river trip to Colorado only took three hours instead of five, as we were heading downstream. Still, it was 7:30pm before we got back to our hotel. It was really an amazing excursion, and we may be going back into the Amazon later in our trip, because it is NOT all the same everywhere. Only now am I getting a real idea of how incredibly huge it is, and what a variety of different ecosystems it contains. What we saw in Peru is quite different than what we might see in the Brazilian part. As long as we have enough DEET, I´m more than willing to dive in there again!

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Posted by Karenlee 20:14 Archived in Peru Tagged manu Comments (5)

Odds and ends....

Nothing in particular - just random thoughts and impressions

  • In a complete reversal of our pattern back home, I am always up and about BEFORE Gerard in the mornings. I cannot tell you how very strange this is!
  • They have FANTASTIC long-distance, overnight busses in Peru where you get blankets, pillows and seats that recline almost completely flat. You can sleep in them almost as well as in a regular bed, and certainly MUCH better than in any airplane seat I´ve ever flown in. Why don´t they introduce these in Europe?
  • I have eaten Alpaca, and it may well be THE most delicious-tasting meat I've ever tasted in my life. I need to eat it again to confirm this. Will keep you posted.
  • The Peruvian sewage system (just like India and a few other places I´ve been to) is such that you should never EVER put toilet paper in the bowl and flush it down (unless you want to risk everything backing up over your feet). Instead, you have to put the paper in the wastebasket next to the toilet (thankfully, they always have lids).
  • One, however, must ALSO be aware that flushing itself is not always an option. In such circumstances, you scoop a bucket of water out of the barrel outside the toilet and pour it in after you´re done.
  • I think I've eaten more fruit in the last 3 weeks than I have in the last 3 years. Not just bananas, papayas, and pineapples, but all kinds of other stuff which I can´t even tell you the names of because I´ve never even seen them before.
  • Today I was driven from a bus station on the outskirts of Peru's second largest city into the heart of town without coming across even ONE single traffic light on the journey. Right of way seems to be determined by a combination of speed and chutzpah. Yes, it IS possible to giggle in terror.
  • I am SO glad that I will eventually be returning to a country with super-strict, auto-emission legislation in place.
  • First major change of plans: we've decided that we ARE going to go to Brazil after all (probably October)!
  • I'd forgotten how astonishing, disturbing, humbling and awe-inspiring it is to see how so many people out there with - in my incredibly spoiled 'Western' eyes - so very little, are able to still be so happy in their lives. Not all of them, of course. I see some people my heart really aches for (mostly the older ones). But there are so many others who are just - by our standards - ekeing out an existence, yet who still are so eager, curious and laughing when you come into contact with them.

For me, travel is about two things. To see and experience all the wonderful things out there, AND to put who you think YOU are into perspective with the rest of the world. My Aunt Bette sent me a wonderful quote from Michael J. Fox who perfectly reflects my sentiments.

"I always take the time to appreciate where I am for what it is. I seek out the excitement of the strange and not the comfort of the familiar. I'm not trying to lose myself, or even find myself, for that matter. My goal is just to enjoy myself, learn somthing and gain an appreciation for the amazing complexity of this planet and the people who live on it. Wherever I go, I bring myself. And so far, it's always been a roundtrip."

Posted by Karenlee 19:36 Archived in Peru Comments (2)

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